The Death of Maricris Sioson in Japan

    Tokyo, December 1, 1993.

The tragic case of Maricris Sioson — her life, her death, and the inaction of the Japanese government despite medical evidence of homicide — is an illustration of the vulnerability of the tens of thousands of Filipino women working in Japan’s entertainment industry.

In April 1991, Maricris Sioson, a 22-year-old dancer from the Philippines, arrived in Japan to work as an entertainer. Previously unemployed, after studying modern dance for three months at a local dance school, she managed to obtain a “yellow card,” the government-issued permit to work overseas as an entertainer. She signed a contract with a Japanese employment agency for $1500/month to work as a dancer in Japan.

Just a few months after her arrival in Japan, Maricris Sioson was admitted to Hanawa Welfare Hospital in Fukushima. She died one week later, and her death certificate listed hepatitis as the cause of death. Her body was flown back to the Philippines on September 25, 1991, along with her personal belongings and $5,500 — her wages for three months and ten days, which had been delivered to the Philippine Embassy by her Japanese employer Keizo Sato, owner of the Faces Club in Fukushima.

Body beaten and stabbed

When the family of Maricris opened her coffin for the funeral, they found that her body had been beaten and stabbed. They requested the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct an autopsy, which was performed in Manila on October 4, 1991 by Dr. Floresto P. Arizala. The autopsy findings included a subdural haemorrhage in the cerebral cortex, presumably caused by blows to the head, and two stab wounds, one in the thigh indicating that a double-edged blade had been twisted upward, downward and diagonally in the flesh, and one in the genital area indicating that a blade had been inserted vertically.

A mission was dispatched to Japan by Philippine President Corazon Aquino to investigate Sioson’s death. Both Dr. Arizala, who had performed the autopsy, and Employment Secretary Ruben Torres participated in this mission but were unable to clarify the circumstances of Sioson’s death in their discussions with Japanese doctors and officials.

The Japanese police conducted a quick probe into the case of Maricris Sioson and then closed the investigation, considering her death to have been caused naturally by illness, despite the autopsy findings.

The story of Maricris Sioson is not unique. In 1991, the year of her death, the Labor Ministry of the Philippines estimated that 80,000 Filipinos went to work in Japan. Ninety-five percent (95%) were women, and the vast majority were employed as entertainers. These entertainers commonly find their passports confiscated and their salaries withheld until the end of their contracts, leaving them at the mercy of their Japanese employers.

Women forced into prostitution

There is only one shelter in Tokyo for migrant women workers who suffer abuse, the HELP Asian Women’s Shelter. According to Mizuho Matsuda, director of HELP, women who come to Japan to work are often forced by circumstances into prostitution. It has been alleged that the Yakuza, an organized crime network in Japan, is heavily involved in the trafficking of women for the sex and entertainment industry in Japan. At Senate hearings held in the Philippines after Maricris Sioson’s death, Philippine embassy officials testified that 33 Filipino workers had already died in Japan that year and that twelve of these deaths took place under “suspicious circumstances.”